Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travels up to Capitol Hill this week in a bid to persuade Congress to ratify the Bush administration's landmark civil nuclear deal with India. The agreement, announced during President Bush's trip to India last month, needs congressional approval. As VOA Correspondent Gary Thomas reports, there is considerable skepticism about the deal.
Ever since the U.S.-India nuclear agreement was announced by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh early last month in New Delhi. U.S. officials have been on a near non-stop campaign to sell the deal to Congress and the public.
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns has been the point man for the administration's public relations blitz. He has appeared at numerous public forums to extol the deal as a major step to solidifying India's new status as a U.S. strategic partner.
The deal is expected to run into some opposition in Congress and Secretary Rice can expect some tough questioning on Capitol Hill.
Until now, the chairmen of the House International Relations and Senate Foreign Relations Committees have both been noncommittal about the agreement. But former Senator Sam Nunn, who though out of the Senate remains an influential figure on military matters, has come out against it.
Nevertheless, Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran is confident that Congress will approve the pact.
"We respect this debate, and indeed believe that our case will come out stronger after it is subjected to the rigorous scrutiny characteristic of democratic processes," he said. "I am confident that at the end of the day, it will be recognized that India has large energy needs, and that its exemplary record makes it a reliable partner for the United States and the international community."
The deal lets India acquire technology for civilian nuclear power. In return, India agrees to split its nuclear program into civilian and military components, and put most of the civilian facilities under international inspection for the first time.
The founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center and an expert on proliferation issues, Michael Krepon, says the deal undercuts the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by rewarding a country that refused to sign that treaty and pursued nuclear weapons.
"The Non-Proliferation Treaty has had some successes of late, but it has also had some stresses and strains," he said. "The Iranian nuclear program, the North Korean nuclear program, have put a lot of strain on the system. And I think the India deal will put more strain on the system."
But Undersecretary Burns says the Non-Proliferation Treaty is alive and well under the U.S.-India nuclear deal.
"The United States very firmly believes in the Non-Proliferation Treaty," he said. "We are not and will not recognize as part of this deal India as a nuclear-weapons power. We are simply, however, trying to make space for India in the international non-proliferation realm to bring them into the system."
Michael Krepon says the deal makes sense if viewed as a U.S. bid to forge a closer relationship with India as a counterweight to China's growing economic and military power.
"For those who support the deal, the answer lies in a larger geopolitical and geostrategic vision where the United States and India work very closely together, and particularly work together against a rising China," he said. "I think that is the only justification for a deal of this kind, since it does so much damage to the nonproliferation system. So we have a large bet placed on U.S.-India cooperation in the future against important potential adversaries, like China."
Concerns have also been voiced that India's export controls are so lax that the deal will make it easy for nuclear technology to fall into terrorist hands. Foreign Secretary Saran says India is enacting sufficient safeguards.
"The deal with the United States of America is about civilian nuclear cooperation," he said. "It is not about India's nuclear weapons. However, we recognize as India that if our partners engage with us in civilian nuclear energy cooperation, they have legitimate expectations that whatever technology comes to India as a part of this cooperation should not leak out to other countries. There should be very strong export controls. That assurance we are prepared to give."
Some legislators say they may seek changes in the deal before they approve it. U.S. officials say they are open to ideas, but not to any that would force a renegotiation of the pact with India